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Cast of cabbing characters (1)

Each year. some 100 to 150 riders come through the barn on Herald St. hoping for a fun summer of big bucks.  Some last only a few days, others only a few weeks - it is tough work and some days end in the red.

But many persist and excel, some returning to be pedicab guides year after year. As a journalist I have met many diverse people in my 25-year career, but the cast of characters populating Victoria's pedicab world rank among the most unusual in one place. Every one has a story.

Over the next month, I'll introduce you to a sampling of this pedal power labour pool. Here today are just two:

Powerhouse from Peru 

Josee - a jill of all trades
Josee Galipeau, 31. Last home, Cusco Peru. Born and raised in Quebec. Fluent in French, English and Spanish and conversant in Inuktitut. I first met Josee on the training tour of Beacon Hill Park and like me she was taking copious notes. A keener. Her questions and comments revealed her to be one smart and observant gal, with a quick sense of humour -- and man was she buff! She didn't seem to even break a sweat going up Government St. with a load.

I gush, but Josee it seems can do anything -- while pedicabbing she was also working as a drywaller, carpenter and painter for a maintenance firm and also selling high end ladies fashion at one of Victoria's most posh women's clothing stores. And doing all of it well. People love her.

Josee's real training, however, is as a conservation biologist and from 2000 to 2005 she lived and worked in Nunavut, rising to be acting director of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, working in part in land claims issues. 

How did she end up in Peru? On a hiking trip in the Andes she fell in love and married her Peruvian mountain guide. Together they built a home among  the Inca ruins in a historic site outside Cusco. Her house walls are made of stones cut hundreds of years ago. From that base the two have run a mountain guide touring company for the last few years catering to European and North American tourists.

Three months ago she came to Victoria in the hope of landing a government job in the area of First Nation Treaty negotiations and to sponsor her husband to immigrate to Canada  to run a mountain guide business from here. This week she returned home to Peru.  Missing her husband and dogs too much, unable to land the initial interview to get her foot in the door in the government, she was tired of $15 an hour jobs.

"If I am going to be poor, I may was well be poor in Peru -- it goes a lot further there," she said. Although she loved pedicabbing, it wasn't a consistent enough income to sustain her. She'll be back, she says, hopefully as early as winter or spring if her husband's papers come through.

I am going to miss her. She only did a few pedicabbing shifts with me but we had our best tour together --  our first big tip from the California dad who called us terrific.  She was fun and knowledgeable. She was always laughing. A bien tot Josee. 

Resourceful Rider

Nigel Woodward, 25, was also on that first Beacon Hill training tour and showed an aptitude for plant names, plant genetics and natural history. Another person with obvious smarts. He didn't say much about himself then, but he did reveal during the year he is a science student at Camosun with a speciality in biochemistry. 

Over the last month he's told me a bit more about his current life: he's homeless. To save money for school he is living under a tree.  Not just any tree, mind you, a weeping Cypress tree on a small  traffic island in a Victoria neighborhood.865312-949868-thumbnail.jpg
Nigel looking clean, carefree and confident

I won't reveal the location of Nigel's summer home lest authorities kick him out, but let's just say this traffic island is a small triangle no more than 10 feet across at its widest and at the juncture of two rather busy Victoria streets. It is all rather ingenious -- no one would even think to look under the sweeping branches that form a natural, protected den on this little patch of space.

Each morning Nigel rises with the sun, goes to a local rec centre that opens at 5:30 am to shower, work out in the gym, and have a soak in the hot tub. Then he comes in for his pedicab shift. sometimes two back to back. He is working part time at a local pizza joint where he gets all his meals - pizza - for free. He takes his laundry to a local laundromat. When it is dark, he crawls back into his little bower bedroom.

"Do I look okay? Like clean?" he asked me in the cruise ship line up, where he told me the story of his unique living arrangements.

"Yeah, you look great, everything considered," I told him.

"Sometimes I think I must emit an air of desperation," he confessed. "People don't like desperation, it makes them uncomfortable. I am trying to work on being a bit more carefree."

Why be a pedicab driver in this climate of labour shortages? Help wanted signs are everywhere.

"It is all minimum wage - nothing more than $12 hour." says Nigel. "Pedicabbing I can make $20 to $25 an hour on a good day. Besides I like the freedom and being my own boss. I don't like people telling me what to do."

I was worried about Nigel during the week of unrelenting rain. Randy lost four or five drivers that week -- people who couldn't last out the slowdown and had to take on other jobs. But then when the sun returned, I saw Nigel, smile on his face, gliding down around suicide corners by the tourist information centre , looking free and happy as he swooped down to position his cab on the Causeway.

And the other night I happened to be driving by his traffic island near midnight and saw a tiny patch of orange poking through the branches, like  a part of t-shirt on someone's reclining back. No one would have even noticed it if they didn't know to look for it.


Posted on Wednesday, August 1, 2007 at 08:08PM by Registered CommenterAnne | Comments2 Comments | References1 Reference

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    Anne Mullens - Journal - Cast of cabbing characters

Reader Comments (2)

There's a lot of folks going broke out there, even the veterans are hurting. Ask Chico. The rates we collect haven't gone up since at least 1990 but the lease rates continue to climb. And with a 40% drop in tourism from the US, the streets may be crowded but business for us sucks.
By the way, "Capitalism 101" dictates that each rider is in competition with all the others. We're(Victoria Pedicab Tours) not "the competition".
Take care and be safe, my friend.
August 2, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTerrence Wiens
You are right, Terry. We are in fact all competing against each other for rides -- but it doesn't feel like it very often. In fact, I have been heartened by the feeling of "brotherhood" among the riders out there. You and others from Victoria Pedicab Tours, and the other Kabuki Kab riders watch out for each other, help each other, and cooperate pretty nicely. Veterans like you have shared your tips and knowledge that definitely has helped newbies like me be safe and survive and do a better job. (And get my heart rate down.)
So, forgive the offhand calling of you "the competition" -- that was just journalist shorthand. What I should have said is mentor and friend.
See you on the streets.
Cheers Anne
August 2, 2007 | Registered CommenterAnne

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